Back to the blog after a long time, and with my pending marriage (22nd Feb, eat your heart out Girls!!!), occupying most of my mindspace, there really isn’t much time to watch some good ol’ movies. But like a good patriotic India, there’s always time, mind and heart for cricket. So unless you went on a 10 year trip to Pluto and have returned yesterday, or were struck in Guantanamo Bay, where I’m told are no Indians, and no TV, or are just dead, you would know that India is hosting the biggest marquee sporting event in the World!!!! What do I hear now? FIFA? Olympics? Wimbledon? Ohh come on….as an Indian you are not supposed to know or recognize that any other sport apart from Cricket exists, and Commonwealth game were simply a dress rehearsal for the greatest ever sporting event, so period.
Now, since THE IPL will be beginning only in April, and we have a long way to go there, so let’s just pretend that this is the pre-Lalit Modi era, and the shorter version of the game refers to the 50-over format. This makes our lives much, much easier, because before the marquee event begins we will have 45 days of warm ups called the ICC Cricket World Cup starting in February. So to make our dull lives, and more importantly office talks, much more exciting let’s just pretend that this is the 90’s when the World Cup actually mattered, which was the time when Australia had to do much more than just turn up to win. Now, that’s another reason to pretend that it’s the 90’s- the Aussies are down, and this is probably the first World Cup after 1996 that any other team actually stands a chance.
Seven of the eight test playing nations can actually think about lifting the trophy (in case of Bangladesh and West Indies, only think). I’m excluding New Zealand, who are playing so bad that they would rather fancy their chances reaching South Pole without a compass than lifting the cup. So here are my thoughts on the 7 teams and their chances:
India: In spite of the fact that the best they have done in the home WCs is the semi-final spot (’87 & ’96), recent injuries to the top 3 batsman, injury to their first choice bowler Praveen Kumar, and a fragile spearhead Zaheer Khan, India starts as firm favorites, not only mine, but almost everyone’s. The reason of course has been their performances over the last two years. With seniors like Ganguly, Kumble, and Dravid retiring and Sachin picking and choosing his ODIs, the young guns have stood up in the shorter format. Virat Kohli has matured into a stable middle order batsman, Raina might be a joke on bouncy tracks, but will be dangerous on flat Indian pitches, Yusuf Pathan and Yuvraj are playing the crucial 5th bowler role to perfection, and Zaheer Khan, fitness permitting is one of the more dangerous bowlers in world cricket at present. With the trinity of Sachin, Sehwag, and Gambhir ensuring a decent start almost always, Kohli at number four to stem any collapse, and Yuvraj, Dhoni, Pathan and increasingly Harbhajan providing the power at the end, India will be difficult to beat. But difficult selection choices, possible injuries, poor record in ICC tournies off late, and enormous home pressure might just bust their party.
What’s right- Good team combination.
What’s wrong- Home pressure would be enormous
X-factor- Sachin’s last World Cup. He wants to win it badly, and the team wants to gift him a farewell worth remembering.
Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka for me is India without the hype. They have a terrific combination at the top of the order- Tharanga, and Dilshan in the sub-continental conditions are as good as Sachin and Sehwag, a beefy middle order with Jayawardene, and the dangerous Sangakkara, followed by an extremely useful Angelo Matthews. Sling’a Mailinga provides fire at the top, and the wily Murli will look to repeat the exploits of ’96. The problem with Sri Lanka though is their back up bowlers; Kulasekera, and Fernando, are not match winners, and their key role is to support Malinga; batsmen all over the world have decoded both Mendis, and Herath, and they should pose little problem. Even then Sri Lanka has the kind of slow spinners in their side that can choke the opposition in friendly conditions, and my bet is that they will play a crucial role in Lanka’s journey.
What’s right: Same as India, but will lesser hype and pressure.
What’s wrong: If Murli and Malinga do not start well, they will be chasing big totals.
X-factor: Angelo Mathews- he is one of the more highly under-rated cricketers. A dangerous batsman, and adds variety to Lanka bowling.
Australia: For the last 12 years, the key World cup question was never who was going to win it, but rather who would play Australia in the finals. But this is the Aussie bashing season folks, the last time they had it this bad was when their leading fast bowler, and leading spinner had a combined age of 5. But then they had Allan Border, today they have Ricky Ponting, who in spite of all his bravado is struggling to manage a team that has lost all its key players in the last 4 years. Add to this, the team selection has been puzzling- they have gone for Tait and Lee as premier fast bowlers, and there is a big question mark over both their fitness, and economy rates. The selection of Jason Kreza as spinner was equally puzzling, he is averaging more than 70 runs/wicket in India. However, I won’t write off Australia completely- their top order is set, with Shane Watson in blazing form, and I have a feeling that he will finally learn to convert his 50’s into 100’s in this tournament, Ricky Ponting, and Clark are proven performers, although their recent form is a major cause of concern. With Hussey out, their failure will put massive pressure on players like White and Voge, who will be expected to do both damage control, and provide fire power at the end. My bet- even with the key players down, Australia has enough fire power to reach the semi’s, but they will find it difficult to make it 4 in a row.
What’s right: As the recent England ODIs prove, even with limited resources, they can fight and win.
What’s wrong: Indifferent form of key middle order, and a fragile bowling attack. Especially with no decent spinners in their attacks they might become cannon fodder for the batsmen.
X-factor: Ricky Ponting- The man has seen it all over his 17 years in international cricket, and though is leading this Aussie side in their darkest times but he still has enough fight in him to turn things over, and most importantly has the respect of the team. This would be his last world cup as well as his last assignment as Aussie captain and player; he would like to make a fist of it.
England: One month back I would have said that they are the strongest contender for the cup, but the recent 6-1 spanking that Australia gave them showed who’s still the Daddy. Don’t get me wrong, England is an excellent Test side, and I have been cheering for them in the Ashes, but they have been absolutely mediocre when it comes to the ODIs. Add to this the subcontinent factor, and the English jelly bellies, and the trophy seems further away. However, this present team is the best that England have fielded since 1992; their batting lineup is heavy with traditional ‘see the ball’ players like Collingwood, Trott, and even Strauss, and the success will depend heavily on how KP shapes up, especially with Eoin Morgan out with injury. The bowling enjoyed plenty of success in the Aussie conditions, but has been smacked in the ODIs; Graeme Swann has done a great job with lesser expectations on his back, but will be interesting to see how he takes the responsibility of a strike bowler in helpful conditions. The fast bowling arsenal, although looks great on paper, but will be found wanting in conditions that favor batsman, this will be a long tour for Broad, Anderson, and Bresnan, especially if they don’t master the slower deliveries.
What’s right: This is the strongest English team to go for a World Cup since 1992, and apart from the Aussie ODI series, have tasted some big success in the last 2 years.
What’s wrong: Their bowlers have a terrible record in India.
X-Factor: Andrew Strauss. Strauss, along with Dhoni has the ability to get his troops do something extraordinary for him.
South Africa: Keep the pretzels away, the chokers are here!!! The Protean’s had spent the last 4 years, trying to keep away this tag, and just when it looked like the world has forgotten the nightmares of rain in’92, Lara in ’96, Donald in ’99, Sehwag’s bowling in ’02, Boucher, Duckworth, and poor mathematics in ’03, Mcgrath, and ‘my mum could have done better’ batting in ’07, (gosh!! It’s a long list) they lost 2 straight matches to India, which should have been a cakewalk. South Africa is probably the only team that has been favorites to win every world cup since 1992, and the closest they have come is choking in the semis, twice. The present team is not very different than any other South African team to play in the World Cup, in fact all the South African teams across decades have looked the same with different names at the back of the jersey- they have attacking batsman at the top of the order, flanked by 2 (not more, not less) traditionalists to hold the batting in unlikely collapse (until they are playing a big game, when they all collapse), 2 fiery front line fast bowlers (140k+), 2 fiery back up fast bowler (140+), a solid wicket keeping batsman, astounding fielders, and one spinner just to make them 11. So nothing different about the Proteans this time, except they are bringing in a debutant spinner as a mystery weapon, and since he is not of South African descent, they are hoping that he could at least turn the ball. My bet- they will win all the way to Quarter finals, to be beaten by a less fancy team. Pakistan, anyone?
What’s right- A well oiled machine of a team. Typical Protea.
What’s wrong- In absence of a good spinner, their bowling attack is predictable.
X-Factor- Dale Steyn. The best bowler in the world by a long way, he can turn a match in one spell. At present, perhaps the only fast bowler, who can make the state of the pitch irrelevant. If he’s on fire, South Africa can defend any total.
Pakistan: Pakistan is really a poster child of Murphy’s Law, everything that can go wrong from drug scandals, to infightings, to match fixing, to terrorist attacks on touring teams, to spot fixing has gone wrong with Pakistan. Now does that make any difference to their world cup chances, I bet it doesn’t. Consistency has never been Pakistan’s forte, this is a team that thrives on mercurial performances of outstandingly talented cricketers, and they have plenty such cricketers in their bags. So much so that last week when ICC banned 3 of their best players, a former captain said, ‘this won’t affect Pakistan cricket in any way’, and sure it won’t because soon we will see some 19 year old bowlers bowling toe crushing in-swingers at 150+, and a 20 years old bashing the living daylight of the SG’s and the kookaburra’s. Another thing that this team thrives on is revenge, and there’s plenty to play for them in 2011- IPL 2010 humiliation, World cup matches taken away, spot fixing, senior players rebelling, a Kookaburra that looked like an apple (which according to them was a RAW conspiracy to make their skipper look like an idiot!!!). They also seem to have assembled a team that looks very dangerous, if it plays together- Misbah, Younis Khan, Umar Akmal, will form the batting core, and if Shahid Afridi doesn’t self destruct, his shots are sure to kill a few spectators, and kiss a few airhostesses. Bowling is where Pakistan has been traditionally very strong- Umar Gul, and the wrong-footed Sohail Tanveer (hours after i wrote this, he was out with injury) know the sub continent conditions and could be more dangerous than someone more fancy like Morne Morkel, or James Anderson. Abdul Razaak is back with a bang, and will be the key player in close matches, both with bat and ball.
What’s right- WTF!!! This is Pakistan we are talking about.
What’s wrong- Everything that can go wrong has already gone wrong. Just, if they don’t kill their coach again….
X-Factor- The Pakistani’s love a fight, they will come back hard. I wouldn’t want to be their opposition in a QF or a SF game.
West Indies and Bangladesh: They will be the giant killers, and are going to spoil the party for at least one of the above 5 teams. Both these teams are good enough to reach QFs, but since both are in the tough group B, only 1 would go through the QFs (although it would be much fun if they both pass through, means one of India, SA, and England is out). Whichever of these minnows make it to the knock outs, I’m pretty sure that they will be itching to play Pakistan, which gives them the best chance to reach the semis. Both these teams have pretty similar combinations, with Bangladesh a little ahead both in terms of home advantage, and recent form.
What’s right- Both the teams have game breakers in their side.
What’s wrong- Inconsistency
X-Factor- If the opposition takes them lightly, they will pounce and tear them limb by limb.
QFS Group A: Pakistan, Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand
QFS Group B: India, South Africa, England, Bangladesh
QF 1: Australia vs Bangladesh
QF 2: Sri Lanka vs England
QF 3: India vs Pakistan
QF 4: New Zealand vs South Africa
SF 1: Australia vs India
SF 2: Sri Lanka vs South Africa
Finals: India vs Sri Lanka
P.S 1: My prediction of QF 3 victory for India is solely based on my patriotism. Given that Pakistanis will be baying for Indian blood, and this match will be played in Bangladesh, I fear the worst.
P.S 2: I hope India beats S Africa, and avoids a QF clash with Pakistan.